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[Photographs: Laura Togut]

Prince Street Café

26 Prince St, New York NY 10012 (between Mott & Elizabeth; map); 212-343-7310; princestreetcafenyc.com
Cuisine: American, French
Veggie Options: Plenty
Cost: Soups, salads $5-12; sandwiches, pastas $7-15

For a moment I seriously considered not writing this review, for fear of giving away the secret to this hidden SoHo gem where the food is remarkably good and you can actually get a table without wait. But since I can't bear to keep a good thing to myself, I bring you my new favorite find: Prince Street Café.

Their menu reads like that of your average New York diner—lengthy and varied; they have some of everything. That's usually a sign that none of it's good. So you can imagine my surprise when many of our dishes were actually astonishingly good—some of the better food I've had in the city. But the large menu certainly doesn't make ordering any easier, so for lack of a menu whisperer, I turned to our waitress for guidance. Luckily for us, she did not lead us astray.

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The bean salad ($10) is one of the wait staff's favorites, and if you try it you'll see why. First thing to note: this is not a three bean salad, or anything like it. Instead it's your typical lettuce-based salad with the addition of string beans and goat cheese. But what really sets this salad apart are the three dressings: a sweet balsamic vinegar, a delicate vinaigrette of puréed shallots, and a bit of mustard together create what is probably one of the best-dressed salads I've had in New York.

The balsamic vinegar alone was so amazingly sweet, mellow, and delicious that we had to ask them where it was from so that we could go buy it ourselves. Well, you can't. It's homemade. They make their own vinegar. And jams. And mayonnaise. And ice cream. And pasta!

Thankfully for us we had already ordered the pasta.

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This is no ordinary café pasta—it puts a lot of Italian restaurants to shame. You can pick any two toppings for you pasta, but following the advice of our waitress we ordered our pasta with pine nut pesto and wild mushrooms* ($12.95). One bite and it was clear that these noodles were homemade: tender with the perfect bite, there could be no better vehicle for the rich pesto and delicate wild mushrooms. This dish managed the perfect balance of homey and indulgent—everything that gourmet comfort food should be.

*On a separate occasion the same dish came with the brilliant inclusion of slivered almonds—definitely worth requesting if you can.

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The pasta also comes with a small side salad which can't possibly compete with the bean salad, but at least it comes with another dose of that delicious balsamic vinegar.

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Just to prove that our waitress really was a menu whisperer, the roasted carrot soup ($6) that we ordered sans-recommendation was nothing special. Lesson learned: with so many things to choose from, it definitely pays to ask.

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That said, our one other gamble really paid off: the chèvre cheesecake ($4) may very well be the best incarnation of goat cheese that I've had to date. With a perfectly light texture and delicate flavor, the goat cheese itself plays a beautifully subtle role in this dessert. Too good to need a crust, it's served ramekin-style with a lovely helping of sliced strawberries. I'm afraid I have no choice but to order this every time I go back.

So as much as I'd like to keep the crowds away, you really should just go—it's delicious, and reasonable to boot (we had more than enough food for two people). I'm anxious to go back for breakfast so that I can get my hands on their stuffed French toast or baked croissant, and I have it on good authority that their truffle butter and pea omelet is quite good. Just order with discretion (and hopefully a recommendation), and you too can have a stellar meal.

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